Monday, March 06, 2006

Liko vs. Patriarchy

Near the end of the entry, you’ll find a link to, and brief commentary on, a truly appalling essay, “The Return of Patriarchy.” However, I’d like to start today’s entry with an interesting article from the New York Times, courtesy of my friend Wendy Call, on the stalled movement of women into the workforce: "Most of us thought we would work and have kids, at least that was what we were brought up thinking we would do -- no problem," says one of the mothers interviewed. "But really we were kind of duped. None of us realized how hard it is." The article continues:
[A study of] time-use surveys done by the Census Bureau and others, has concluded that contrary to popular belief, the broad movement of women into the paid labor force did not come at the expense of their children. Not only did fathers spend more time with children, but working mothers, she found, spent an average of 12 hours a week on child care in 2003, an hour more than stay-at-home mothers did in 1975.

Instead, mothers with children at home found the time for outside work by taking it from other parts of their day. They also worked more overall. [The study] found that employed mothers, on average, worked at home and on the job a total of 15 hours more a week and slept 3.6 fewer hours than those who were not employed...

The research suggests that women may have already hit a wall in the amount of work they can pack into a week. From 1965 to 1995, [the study] found, the average time mothers spent doing paid work jumped to almost 26 hours a week from nine hours. Time spent on housework fell commensurately, from 32 hours to 19.

Then the trend stalled. From 1995 to 2003, mothers, on average, spent about the same amount of time on household chores, but their work outside the home fell by almost four hours a week.

"Looking toward the future," said Francine Blau, a professor of economics at Cornell University, "one can question how much further increases in women's participation can be had without more reallocation of household work."

A good question. "This is having broad repercussions for the economy," the article concludes, ominously. "Today, about 75 percent of women 25 to 54 years old are either working or actively seeking a job, up from around 40 percent in the late 1950s. That expansion helped fuel economic growth for decades."

Economic growth, huh? Let's restate the numbers: since the Seventies, women are spending more time with their kids and more time at work, but they're sleeping 3.6 fewer hours a week while still taking time from "other parts of their day." Men probably have it slightly easier, but this, in a nutshell, explains why contemporary parenthood has become such a pressure-cooker.

In such conditions, what's the best way to live? Working even less would be a start, which is exactly what’s happened in Europe. But the European Union is no utopia for women: depending on the country, there might be even less gender parity in housework and childcare, and a recent International Newsweek article suggests that by providing support for women to stay home, Europe’s generous maternity leave programs are killing their career prospects. Is this just imperialistic American propaganda? Maybe, maybe not; but why should that situation surprise anybody? If basic needs are secured and society gives us options, most people, male and female, will choose to spend more time with their families, or in pursuing creative interests – both of which make society a better, happier place, even if they don’t contribute much to making the rich richer. It seems to me that the solution is not to junk Europe’s welfare system, as some suggest, but to change the culture and public policy so that more men can take more advantage of parental leave. At present, in both Europe and America, it's simply not OK for most men to go back into the workforce after five years of full or part-time parenting and explain the gap in their resume by saying, "I took a few years off to take care of my daughter." It's hard enough for women, but for men, taking that time can mean death to their careers, and they know it. So, it’s not enough to provide parental leave to dads; you also have to make it safe to take advantage of leave.

What if the culture changed – or perhaps I should say, what if we changed the culture? – so that men were expected to take on more childcare, and public policy supported that expectation? Many men would jump at the opportunity, and many women – those who want to – might jump back into careers. Then maybe you’d see fewer men in decision-making positions, but more women, and everybody might work less. It is, as the hacks say, a win-win…isn’t it? Unfortunately, no – it means less social power for men and more for women, and that makes it a political fight.

For an example, see “The Return of Patriarchy” by Phillip Longman in the current issue of Foreign Policy. “Across the globe,” Longman argues, “people are choosing to have fewer children or none at all. Governments are desperate to halt the trend, but their influence seems to stop at the bedroom door. Are some societies destined to become extinct? Hardly. It’s more likely that conservatives will inherit the Earth. Like it or not, a growing proportion of the next generation will be born into families who believe that father knows best.” (This gnarly gem came to me courtesy of Claire Light , who saw it first on Dar Kush.) Longman surveys trends such as falling birthrates, increasing divorce, women in the workforce, and a societal aversion to war (in developed societies, he writes, “the quality of human capital may be high, but it has literally become too rare to put at risk” through warfare; he thinks that this is a bad thing) – and then concludes that since these developments almost always lead to the collapse of civilization as he knows and loves it, then a patriarchal reaction simply must set in and smite the girly men and feminists who are its enemies. I read the article carefully, I’m sad to say – that’s time I’ll never get back. Well, I agree that a patriarchal reaction is setting in against some very positive trends, but I don’t think its triumph is preordained by history. Sorry, Phillip, I’m not seeing any real evidence here; only wishful thinking on your part. If you want to see a more comprehensive critique of Longman’s screed, visit Joshua Holland’s blog on AlterNet. You’ll also find a sharp critique from my son Liko, pictured at the top of this blog entry.


Howard said...

Yeah, but is that a REAL critique from Liko or is he just wincing in pain from the poop that just came out of his ass?

Sorry, I always have to bring up poop, don't I?

Enjoying the blog, Jeremy. As far as putting down the kid without mom's boob, I've been there - oh yeah, is it terrifying after the first few times.

Zoë used to be a terrible sleeper and still gets up anywhere between 4:30am and 6am most mornings and crawls into bed with us. When she does this, neither of us sleep very well because she is wiggling around.

When she actually sleeps through IN HER BED, it's like a gift from heaven. Hallelujah! Praise my pillow!

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

I often wonder if other parents have suffered as much as we have with his sleep. I've met the range: one woman who proclaimed herself blessed, saying that her little darling had slept through the night ever since six weeks (I thought: "Argh! I hate you!"), to the dad whose baby still woke up 3-4 times a night at fifteen months (me: "Oh God, I pity you"). Certainly, the number of books on the shelves about babies and sleep testifies to a certain obsession with this topic. Interestingly, according to Our Babies, Ourselves, by Meredith Small, Americans are on the extreme end of being obsessed with sleep, compared to other cultures (many of which are much more obsessed with food and socialization) -- we're also one of the few that's embraced putting the baby too sleep in a crib (as opposed to keeping them in bed with us). I suspect that all this has a lot to do with the American focus on work, which emphasizes schedules.

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Jeremy Adam Smith said...

This blog entry is based on same-day entries published by Claire Light and me on the Other Magazine blog. Lauren McLaughlin commented at the Other blog, and I thought I share her comment here: "While it may be true that conservative thinkers have more babies than liberal thinkers, one’s influence on culture as a whole is not so neatly summed up. In fact, one might argue that those with fewer babies have more intellectual resources to contribute to the formation of culture, thus providing a liberal yin to the conservative yang. Also, I’m not convinced by arguments of a monolithically conservative block of society. Presidential elections with their focus on poll numbers and simplistic questionnaires tend to paint the nation in stark black and white (or red and blue) terms. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that even social conservatives are a heck of a lot more liberal than their grandparents. I’m beginning to believe that this Bush-spike of conservatism is less an expression of legitimate cultural trends than it is a function of ruthless campaign strategy."

BTW, ignore the two previous comments by "Anonymous." It's an Internet scam of some kind and, unfortuantely, my sponsor Blogspot doesn't appear to give me a way to delete comments. I'm now moderating comments to prevent this from happening.

Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel better, my husband stayed home with our second child (and his older sister) while I worked full time for his first year. Our son is now a relatively well adjusted 18 year old college freshman and my husband is working in design, research and product development, has presented papers at international conferences in his field (industrial instrumentation) and holds multiple patents.
And eventually they keep you up for reasons far different than wanting to play at 2 a.m.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Thanks, Helen. Observations like that do make me feel better; I know that someday I'll look back on this period of my life and wonder what I was so anxious about.

Is it too banal to say that it's really amorphous fear that keeps us locked into our various roles? I guess that why it's important for us to model different alternatives, other lives. Of course, given that my blog so far is a chronicle of shifting anxiety, I'm probably not doing much to recruit new dads....dads: ignore me and listen to Helen.

Actually, I'm curious: did you see any evolution in your husband's parenting or personality or life goals as a result of his year at home? Or was he just the same guy, only a year older?

Deep Thought said...

Well, my first son would only fall asleep in the backpack for about 4 months. Oh, during a 4 mile walk. While I talked to him. I was in better shape and hoarse.

Then he would only fall asleep in the car for a month. While driving.

My second son would only fall asleep while I carried him in an endless loop of kitchen-hall-livingroom-dining room-kitchen until he was 15 months old.

Third son? He could sleep in a hurricane while a fire truck idled outside with its sirens on since about 3 weeks old

So far my fourth son likes to fall asleep while I read a book. Much better.

BTW - Longman is not conservative, he's progressive. He is worried about his conclusions, not exultant.

Anonymous said...


Just found your blog and wanted to let you know I think you're doing a wonderful thing staying home with your baby.

My husband has stayed home with our three daughters (11, 8, and 2) since the first was born. Every time I hear about a child getting neglected or abused in any way, I thank god, he agreed to stay home with them.

You know that NO ONE will take care of your baby better than you!

But unfortunately, after 11 years of him being a stay-at-home dad, he still gets the looks of "what kind of a man are you?!" from other parents (women too). It's sad....

I wish people would recognize and reward parents for their decision to be involved in the lives of their children so wholeheartedly. Don't ever let someone make you feel like you made a bad choice! Your childs happiness & health is the most important thing you can do for you and especially for him!

He's adorable by the way!

mark said...

BTW, ignore the two previous comments by "Anonymous." It's an Internet scam of some kind and, unfortuantely, my sponsor Blogspot doesn't appear to give me a way to delete comments. I'm now moderating comments to prevent this from happening.

wait, what?!!?!!! an internet scam!!! Aaargh, NOW you tell me!

I just sent him ALL my money. He said i could make some easy cash. I mean why would he wriite that, anonomously no less, if I couldn't make some easy cash? And why woudl he leave it in your comments for me to find?

Oh god, why oh why!!! I sure wish you'd started to moderate things sooner.

Anyways good to read your stuff again. B-crack. Give the boy a hug for me and clear some floor space for a possible summer visit from Liko's other crazy uncle.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to take so long getting back.

My husband's parenting style didn't change much as he and I had been splitting childcare while we were both fulltime students (18mo), then trading off who tookto/picked up from our daughter for her half to 3/4 day of daycare(usually him as I was then working fulltime and taking 6 sem crs and he was usually "just" a full time student, 18 mo). He was the only full time stay at home dad, but there were several halftime at home dads in our apartment complex as we were in one heavily populated by students. He did really need adult talk and time by the end of the day though.

Also, we had more issues once the kids got into school. They still call parent helpers "room mothers" most places. This just shows the bias still inherent in our educational systems. He did volunteer for our son's week long 6th grade trip and as they were not getting many fathers (and complaining about it after basically shutting them out for nearly 7 years, who would have thought fathers would be so uninvolved, ad nausium).

It made us both relax more about how things were "supposed" to be though.

His life goals.... Well, he claims he would never have finished his first degree, much less the 2nd undergrad and MS if he hadn't felt he would be letting us down not to do so. That, and not ever wanting his kids to have to depend on the family farm back home for survival. Do not ever let anyone tell you haw great life in the country is. Real country, as in life on a real working farm, is not safe, healthy or profitable for the vast majority of family operations.

Once you have kids, there is always something to be anxious about. The causes change, but mostly you just get used to it, like highway noise if you live near a busy roadway.